In the case of Delta Stroy 2003 (C-203/21, 10.11.2022), the CJEU declared incompatible with Article 48 of the EU-Charter (presumption of innocence and rights of the defence) national legislation under which a national court may impose on a legal person a criminal penalty for an offence for which a natural person who has the power to bind or represent that legal person is allegedly liable, where that legal person has not been put in a position to dispute the reality of that offence.
In the case at hand, a company, Delta Stroy, was prosecuted in separate proceedings for the purpose of imposing on it a financial penalty for a criminal offence relating to value added tax alleged against its manager and representative.
What is noteworthy, from a Convention point of view, is first of all the similarity between the facts underlying this case and those which gave rise to the case of G.I.E.M. S.r.l. and Others v. Italy before the ECtHR. The question at the heart of both cases was whether companies could be convicted and sentenced for a criminal offence committed by their managers.
This is why the CJEU amply relied on G.I.E.M., thereby stating that the principle of the legality of criminal offences and penalties enshrined in Article 7 of the Convention, as applied by the ECtHR, corresponds to Article 49 of the EU-Charter and, by virtue of Article 52(3) of the EU-Charter, should therefore be interpreted so as not to disregard the level of protection guaranteed by Article 7 of the Convention, as interpreted by the ECtHR (§§ 43-44). The CJEU also noted that, according to the ECtHR, the violation of Article 7 of the Convention resulting from the imposition of a criminal sanction on an individual without his or her personal liability being established also breached the presumption of innocence protected by Article 6 § 2 of the Convention (§ 45).
In the case at hand, Delta Stroy was itself the subject of separate criminal proceedings triggering the application of the right to a fair trial. This is a significant difference with the 3 applicant companies in G.I.E.M. which could, not being themselves prosecuted, not invoke the right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the Convention and had therefore to rely on its Article 7. Consequently, the CJEU could confine itself to applying only Article 48 (presumption of innocence and rights of the defence), specifying that this provision too had to be interpreted so as not to disregard the corresponding Strasbourg protection level.
In sum, and regardless of these factual differences, there is correspondence between the Strasbourg and the Luxembourg jurisprudence in this area, something which can only be welcomed.